Friday, August 17, 2012

Manchester United starting lineup vs Everton

Tomorrow the premier league starts again which I am really looking forward to. I am extra encouraged this year because my team (Manchester United) have signed to world class players over the summer. Kagawa from Japan was one of the best players in Bundesliga last year, and won the title for the second time in a row and then there is Van Persie, top scorer in the premier league last year. Vidic is also back which will certainly improve the defense. 

Here is my suggested line-up vs Everton on sunday, very offensive I know, but it seems to me that you cannot leave out neither Kagawa or Van Persie... Also both Rooney and Kagawa are responsible defensively...


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Misconceptions about sceince

A colleague at my University who also writes a blog called "Åse fixes Science" recently linked to an excellent resource where common misconceptions about science are straightened out.

If you believe in any of the following statements I recommend that you take a look at the site. My personal experience as a scientist confirms everything that is written on the page.

Science is complete! - No it's not
Science is not a creative process! - It is
Scientists are always objective! - No, they are people
There is one scientific method that all scientists use! - No there are many methods

On two points I would have added some information to the page however. First, when the author discusses whether all scientists are atheists it is stated and statistics are provided to show that this is not the case. It is stated for instance that 75% of scientist believe that religions convey important truths. I think that it would have been appropriate to add that compared to the population at large there are more atheists among scientists than in the population at large.

The second point which I agree with but would like to add to is whether there is one scientific method. Anyone who knows the slightest bit of information about science knows that scientists use an almost limitless number of methods - anything that will allow them to get a better model of reality. However, I think that in another sense there is a scientific method. All scientific methods (or "The scientific method") are systematic, it does not have logical inconsistencies, and any method used should possible to try again to confirm the results. Good scientists follow such basic principles...

Friday, August 10, 2012

The world is getting better

I recently finished Harvard Professor Steven Pinker's most recent book called "The better angels of our human nature: Why violence has declined". This 1000 page book Pinker argues convincingly that all categories of violence (war, murder, assaults, and rape) has decreased substantially throughout history. What about the 2WW with 50 million plus deaths. While this was indeed the most destructive war in terms of the absolute number of dead people, it is not the most destructive if you look at the percentage. Genghis Khan for instance, in his raids reached a 40 million figure almost a thousand years ago, a huge proportion of the people around at that time. In other words, for the average individual it was way more dangerous in Genghis Khans time than when Hitler was alive.

Importantly the number of wars have decreased throughout history and since the 2WW there have been fewer wars than ever before (despite serious tensions during the cold war I may add). It is of course easy to think that there are a lot of wars because almost every war is covered in the media in a way that is quite new.

Likewise the murder rate has gone from 50-100 persons per 100.000 per year in the middle ages to an average that is lower than 10 persons per 100.000 per year in the west today (in Sweden where I live the rate is more like 1 person in 100.000 per year).

Why has violence decreased so much? Pinker argues, and after reading his book I agree, that the main historical factor is the development of states i.e. an uninterested third party that can settle disputes that would previously spark violence. To call a state "uninterested" may be an overstatement since in order to flourish it is in the states interest that its subjects do not fight. Apart from this rationale Pinker also presents a large amount of data showing that the establishment of a state is correlated with a strong decrease in violence.

The other main factor Pinker argues is responsible for the decline of violence is rational-abstract thinking. Today we live in a global world, and like never before we get to peek into other peoples lives, even if they live on the other side of the globe. It is almost impossible and it is definitely not socially acceptable to dismiss other peoples suffering just because they live in another country.

If this sounds interesting, listen to the TED lecture with Pinker where he gives you a short outline.
Another authors who has similar ideas although his explanation is somewhat different is Matt Ridley, listen to him below.

Pinker, S. (2011). The Better Angels of Our Nature. Viking Adult.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The important peer review comes after the peer review.

It is not a secret among scientists that the peer review system which is used as a sort of quality control prior to publication is flawed. When a scientists thinks that he or she has made a discovery the general procedure is to write up a paper containing an introduction to the questions addressed, the methods used (the "scientific method" should really be plural as in "scientific methods" because in science a wealth of different methods are used to create ever improving models of the "real world"), the results found and then a discussion in which you discuss your work and how it relates to other scientists results.

The paper is then sent to a journal. If the scientist thinks his or her paper is groundbreaking it may be sent to nature or science, but there are many other options as well. The editor of the journal may then decide whether the paper is rejected immediately (editors have a lot of power), or whether it will be sent out for a review (notice that editors cannot just go ahead and accept a paper, however fantastic it seems.).

What people refer to as "peer review" is when a paper is sent to a few scientists (usually 2-3) in the same field, who will carefully read the paper and give their opinion on it. They may say the article lacks in news-value, that the method used has flaws or that one has forgotten to discuss a certain relevant paper (often their own...). Based on the reviews from these experts the editor makes a choice, will the article be published, rejected or they encourage you to do some changes and then send it in again.

So lets say you got through all this and managed to get your paper accepted by a top-notch scientific journal. Is your conclusions now established dogma, or scientific fact. Is it written into the holy bible of science never to be changed? No! When your article has been published the real peer review process starts, your article will now be discussed by other scientists in the field. When it is published it is open for everyone (with a subscription to the journal) to read and comment upon. It may be that after a few years a fatal flaw is found in the paper and no-one will believe in it anymore.

A good example is the faster than light neutrinos where the authors did not believe in faster than light neutrinos themselves but they still published their data allowing other scientists to add their interpretations/suggestions. Pretty fast someone figured out that the results was merely caused by a measuring error in so and so, which was later confirmed. Now no-one believes in faster than light neutrinos. The lesson is that although scientists are often stubborn and stick with their theories to the bitter end, science at large has proven to be extremely flexible, and almost on a daily basis theories and hypothesizes are questioned or modified to describe reality a bit more accurately.

For those who think that science is just another religion it is also interesting to compare how often you make changes in the bible (next to never), and how often you make changes to science textbooks, the foundation of what we teach new students in a field. In neuroscience may textbooks come out with new editions every 2-4 years to keep up with all the new facts.